Office Hours: Professor reflects on the state of Egypt

November 12, 2013

Mbaye Lo, assistant professor of the practice of Asian & Middle Eastern studies and leader of this past summer’s DukeEngage in Cairo program, reflected during that time about Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. He believes the dreams of the 2011 Arab Spring are still alive, but that Egyptians are in a state of “political exhaustion.”

On the likelihood of dictatorial rule in Egypt:

The return of dictatorial rule, supported by popular will, is highly possible in the current situation. Remember millions of Egyptian came out...to support General Sisi’s request for a popular mandate to fight terrorism. The most popular regimes in modern Egypt were both dictatorial—Muhammad Ali and Gamal Abdel Nasser. They are also the most successful ones in building Egypt economically and politically. Both had strong military components.

On the structure of government in the Middle East:

The dominant ruling class of the Arab world since World War II has been associated with either military dictatorship, as is the case in the Sudan, Egypt, Mauritania, and Algeria; oligarchical rule, as is the case in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Tunisia; or tribal monarchies, as is the case in the Arabian Gulf, Jordan, and Morocco.

Since the Arab uprising or “Arab Spring” only occurred in countries in the first two categories, the available choices to the Arab streets were between the ruling military/oligarchy elements and Islamist groups. I believe, however, that with time and opportunity, other political groups will be able to develop to the point that they can offer a third way. I think the current developments in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as in the Sudan where Islamist governments are or were at the front seat, ultimately will result in a more open political sphere, diversity, and political pluralism.

On the role of the U.S. government in the Middle East:

The U.S. government should be forthcoming in supporting democratic opening and progress in Egypt regardless of the governing party. I think the Obama administration contributed to the political impasse in Egypt. When Mohamed Morsi was elected to office, he had no positive models of democratic governance in the Arab world. The U.S. needed to pressure and reward him to adopt good practices from elsewhere.